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It's Never Too Late to Prepare for Disasters

We were deep in conversation about the tremendous impact that the recent hurricanes have had on the state of Florida and other parts of the southeastern U.S. when Morris' wife Carol handed us a leaflet reminding us that September had been National Preparedness Month.

We agreed that "better late than never" was an appropriate direction here and we decided to take Carol's hint and bone up on the subject.

We went to the Internet and typed "disaster preparedness" into our favorite search engine. We had no idea how much information existed on the subject. Our entry put us at the top of a list that contained nearly 1 million Web sites.

One of the first sites that popped up was www.Prepare.org, a Web site offered by the American Red Cross and other community-based organizations to help you and your family prepare for natural and human-caused disasters.

One of the key goals of the site is to serve the vulnerable population: seniors, children, people with disabilities and animal and pet owners. Preparedness materials are available in English and foreign languages. Navigating the site was easy and an available large font option made it even easier to read.

A disaster can cause significant financial loss. Your home may be severely damaged or destroyed. You may be forced to live in temporary housing. Income may be cut off or significantly reduced. Having access to important household and personal financial records will be critical.

If you have insurance, you'll want to make sure the insurance company pays you fairly for all covered property and possessions damaged or destroyed in the disaster. To do that, you'll need to prove that a loss took place and confirm the value of that loss.

The following steps will help you give the insurance company an accurate list of your property and thus the best possible settlement:

Make a list of everything that you own, item by item. If possible, photograph or videotape every bit of it. And be sure to update the list at least once or twice a year. It is amazing how your assets can grow from month to month especially if you have growing children. Keep one copy of the list off the premises.

If you have your checkbook on computer, consider signing up for an Internet backup service. With this option, your financial records can be updated on a daily basis and kept off-premises. Remember, if you don't have an inventory list in hand after the fact, making one from observation and memory will leave you "short-changed" when it comes time to settle with the insurance adjustor.

Draw a floor plan of your home. Include notes on finishes such a baseboard, flooring, wall finish, crown mold, etc. Take lots of pictures inside and out. Remember, you're likely to remember large items, but its the small ones that get forgotten.

Collect and save receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements and invoices to prove the value of lost possessions, including big-ticket items such as antiques or jewelry. These are all best kept in waterproof containers stored in a fireproof safe, if you can afford one.

Reconstruct lost records. Even the best organizers will lose records in a disaster. And you may need to reconstruct some of those records if you plan to file an insurance claim, take a tax deduction for your loss, or apply for government aid.

Here are some tips for re-creating financial records and determining the value of your possessions:

Look through catalogs or want ads to establish a fair value for your damaged or destroyed items. Insurance for renters or homeowners may pay only the actual cash value for your possessions (replacement cost discounted for age or use).

Use a Blue Book (available at banks) or consult a car dealer to determine the current value of vehicles.

Get a copy of the escrow papers for your home from your real estate agent, the title company, the escrow company or the bank that handled the purchase.

Go to your county assessor for property tax records to determine the value of the land versus the value of the building.

Contact lenders and contractors to determine the value of home improvements you have made.

Check court records for the probate values of property you may have inherited.

File Form 4506, Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form, with the IRS to obtain copies of previous federal income tax returns. A small fee may be charged for this service.

You will need to notify your creditors and your employer. You will need to file an insurance claim and you will have to deal with an insurance adjustor and possibly even a repair contractor or two.

For more information, contact your local Red Cross or office of emergency management. They can provide valuable information and assistance in the event of a disaster. The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also have a brochure that gives you tips on how to prepare financially before a disaster strikes.

The coffee house brochure Carol picked up defined being prepared as "an easy way to ease your mind." Well, we aren't sure that's so for those who have been through a disaster, but preparedness definitely is a step in the right direction.

To find more valuable information on what to do before, during and after a catastrophe, check out the Red Cross site at www.redcross.org.

And thats all there is to it.


All About Vinyl Siding

The demand for vinyl siding comes primarily from consumers who seek alternatives to maintenance-intense siding products such as wood and plaster. Some of the appealing features are ease of installation, its resistance to structural pests, such as termites and the fact that it doesn't require painting.

Does vinyl siding offer a home the beauty and character that traditional finishes such as wood, stucco, masonry and stone provide? That, really, is a matter of personal taste. However, vinyl siding products of late have a low-gloss finish that resembles painted wood. Moreover, most manufacturers offer realistic looking grain patterns and have improved the look and integrity of trim material. Fading and yellowing are no longer an issue with finer vinyl siding products, nor is rigidity if they are correctly installed.

Vinyl siding is available in varying widths and with smooth or textured panels. The latter resembles the look of real rough-sawn wood that has been stained. Both horizontal and vertical panels are available... with horizontal being best-suited for traditional architecture and vertical offering a contemporary look.

When it comes to minimum manufacturing standards, vinyl siding is subject to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard 3679. Thus, any vinyl siding that you purchase should come complete with this designation on both product fact sheets and packaging. Keep in mind that these are minimum standards. When it comes to building materials minimum standards is not a good thing. Thus, to select a product that exceeds this minimum standard, use the following guidelines:

  • Panels should be at least .040 inches thick; .042 to .045 is better. The ASTM standard requires only .035 inches.
  • Soffit panels should be about .05 inches thick. Because soffits are suspended horizontally and secured at the edges only, the extra thickness prevents the panels from sagging.
  • Look for anti-weathering protection. The warranty is your best clue. Few building products come with the long warranties offered by vinyl manufacturers... 50 years is standard. Some products even come with a lifetime warranty that can be transferred to the next owner of your home. Unfortunately, most warranties only cover the product and not the labor to replace it.
  • A contractor's experience and craftsmanship are essential to a professional installation. While vinyl siding can be installed by a do-it-yourselfer, the vast majority of the product is installed by a professional. Vinyl siding is subject to expansion and contraction from weather conditions and, therefore, to avoid buckling and other damage, the material must be installed in strict accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Rigid vinyl siding is made from organic materials and will melt or burn when exposed to a significant source of flame or heat. Precautions should be taken to keep sources of fire, such as barbecues, and combustible materials, like dry leaves, mulch and trash, away from it.

Trim material can make or break the appearance of the finished product and the lasting quality of the job as a whole. Only manufacturer-approved trim should be installed.

Vinyl siding doesn't require painting. In fact, manufacturers recommend that it not be painted. This can be a problem for someone who wishes to change the color of his house somewhere down the road. Therefore, it's best to select a neutral color.

Vinyl siding is subject to becoming dirty and soiled. The Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI) suggests several methods to clean it.

Usually a heavy rain is sufficient to clean the product, or it can be washed with a garden hose. If neither does the job, VSI suggests a soft cloth or ordinary long-handled soft bristle brush. For textured surfaces, use only a soft-bristle brush to avoid smearing the stain into the grooves. When washing an entire house, start at the top and work down to prevent streaking.

For difficult-to-remove dirt and stains such as topsoil, motor oil, lithium grease, crayon, felt-tip pen, caulking, lipstick, grass, bubble gum, mold and mildew, VSI recommends a household cleaner such as Fantastic, Murphy Oil Soap, Lestoil or Windex.

Most cleaners are not sufficient for cleaning stains such as pencil, paint, oil and tar. In these cases, use a mildly abrasive cleaner, such as Soft Scrub, Ajax or Bon Ami. The use of any abrasive material, however, could affect surface appearance.

Cleaners containing organic solvents or other aggressive ingredients should not be used because they also could affect the surface appearance of the vinyl. Examples of such cleaners are chlorine bleach, liquid grease remover, strong soaps and detergents containing organic solvents, nail polish remover and furniture polish/cleaners.

The VSI publishes two free brochures. "What Homeowners Want to Know" and "Cleaning of Vinyl Siding." Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc., Attn: Vinyl Siding Institute, 1275 K Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005.

Metal Studs

When our grandfather, a general contractor, was building homes in the early part of this century, a two by four measured a full 2 inches by 4 inches. Today, the same stick of wood framing material measures a half-inch less in either direction.

In spite of this fact, we believe that modern technology and innovations in building materials and construction methods are producing better, more energy-efficient and affordable housing.

While there is no substitute for Old World craftsmanship, technology does have its benefits. There are many building materials being manufactured today with durability and lasting quality.

Metal studs, among other materials, are becoming increasingly more visible in the residential building industry. Studs - the vertical wall framing units - are not the only things in which steel is used. Floor joist, ceiling joist, roof rafters and even complete roof framing systems called "roof trusses" are framing components that are also being fabricated from steel.

Although many people believe that light-gauge steel is state-of-the-art technology, such is not the case. We had our first experience with metal framing almost 20 years ago while constructing an office/apartment in a commercial setting. In sharp contrast to residential construction, metal has been a mainstay in commercial construction for years.

There are many advantages that steel offers that can't be achieved with traditional wood framing material. Among the most significant is its resistance to rot, fungus, rust and structural pests, in spite of a bogus report some years ago that steel-eating termites had made their way into the U.S.A.

Also, steel construction proponents report that a home constructed of steel weighs substantially less than the same home made of wood. Engineering provided by steel industry experts concludes that a lighter structure responds more favorably when subjected to seismic activity. In other words, all else being equal, a steel home is less likely to sustain the level of damage that would its heavier wood counterpart.

Another selling point of steel is that it is more fire-resistant than wood. Moreover, steel framing used in conjunction with other fire-resistant materials and construction details can significantly diminish the prospect of a fire. However, steel is not by any means fireproof. In the case of a raging fire, a steel home can suffer as much damage as the same home constructed of wood.

One benefit of steel studs is their uniformity. In contrast, no two wood framing members of the same dimension measure exactly the same. Furthermore, the moisture content of a wood framing member will ultimately influence its final dimensions. Moisture also can cause other problems when it comes to wood framing _ namely twisting and rot.

Wavy walls are, more often than not, the result of wood studs that twist during the drying process. What's more, excessive moisture caused by a leaking tub or shower is often the cause of rotted framing which must be torn out and replaced. This can be rather costly if the rot goes undetected for a prolonged period of time.

Steel studs, on the other hand, go unscathed by these conditions. Some of the straightest walls are framed using steel studs. This primarily is due to the fact that all steel studs of the same dimension are exact carbon copies of one another. Moisture has no bearing on the size of the material. And because steel in inorganic, it is not subject to the rot that wood is. However, when it comes to water, one potential downfall of steel is rust. Steel industry experts contend, however, that "certified steel" is galvanized (coated with zinc) and, thus, resists rust.

Framing a wall with metal studs is quite different from working with wood. For example, when it comes to cutting the material a chop saw with a metal cutting blade is used instead of using a circular saw. For lighter gauge material aviation snips will cut the material.

Don't expect to find a single nail in metal framing. Metal studs are fastened to a "C" channel or "track" at the top and bottom using self-tapping construction screws. Thus, a hammer has no value, but an electric screw gun can make easy work of such a task.

As to cost, steel and wood are generally comparable. However, the cost of steel traditionally is more stable while the price of wood tends to fluctuate due to industry conditions. By the same token, the labor cost to construct a steel home can be significantly more if the framing crew is used to working with wood and doesn't have vast experience with steel.

As more and more builders experiment with steel and the labor force becomes more familiar with timesaving construction techniques, steel is becoming an increasingly affordable alternative. In fact, many production builders using steel have begun prefabricating their walls and roof systems in a factory setting, making field assembly much quicker, easier and less costly.

Steel might be the new kid on the block for now, but chances are that it will soon become as common to the construction of homes as it is to the automobile.

For more about steel-framed housing, call the steel information hotline:
800-79-STEEL (800-797-8335)